By Albert Amateau
The City Council on June 23 overwhelmingly passed a bill to give tenants the right of first refusal when their landlords leave rent-subsidy programs and put their buildings up for sale.
The Tenant Empowerment Act, a revision of one first introduced by City Councilmember Alan Jay Gerson in February 2004, would allow tenants, or an affordable-housing developer they select, 120 days to match any market-rate offer to landlords who buy out of Section 8 or Mitchell-Lama programs. When he first introduced it, Gerson said the bill could serve to protect Tribecas Independence Plaza North tenants if the federal enhanced voucher program were discontinued. The voucher program was introduced to I.P.N. last year as part of an agreement to preserve affordable housing there.
The bill is just common sense, allowing ordinary New Yorkers to buy and afford their own homes, said City Council Speaker Gifford Miller at a June 23 City Hall rally just before the Council voted 47 to 3 in favor of the bill.
Supporters of the legislation said it would help preserve affordable housing for more than 80,000 families who are at risk of losing rent-subsidy programs by 2009. Now the city has to find the money to assist them to buy these properties, said City Councilmember Margarita Lopez, a co-sponsor of the bill who spoke at the rally.
But the Bloomberg administration has testified against the bill and indicated that the mayor would veto the measure
Intro 186-A is highly unlikely to withstand a court challenge because it illegally compels owners to sell their properties and would conflict with state law and with federal laws governing buildings receiving federal subsidies, Carol Abrams, deputy commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said later in a prepared statement.
Given the real estate market in New York City, it is doubtful that tenants could raise adequate financing in the 120 days allowed, or that they would be able to keep rents affordable after purchasing a property at market rate, Abrams added. Requiring the tenants to pay market rate for the development may well cause the displacement of the low- and moderate-income tenants this bill purports to help.
Supporters, however, said the bill has been revised to make sure that its provisions do not constitute an unconstitutional taking of private property.
Miller said the overwhelming vote makes it more than likely that the council could muster the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto by the mayor.
Marie Christopher, an organizer with GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) and a tenant leader at 210 Stanton St., said that the Tenant Empowerment Act is only the first step in preserving affordable housing for 171 families in the Section 8 project on Stanton St. The city will have to come up with some money to help tenants buy the buildings, she said.
Under the legislation, the right of first refusal would not be exercised if a landlord sells a residential property to a new owner who intends to remain in a rent-subsidy program.